Shadows of the Evergreen - Part 1
All the sides near the great Evergreen Forest considered the area to be a Bubble Kingdom. Personally, Warlord Grey Shades hated the term. He preferred the term "Croak Trap." His side of Everclear had spent the hundred turns since the conclusion of the Everlong War to leave that impression on all the surrounding sides, at least. It took a while for some sides to realize that if they sent units into the forest, they only emerged on Everclear's terms, but after all the adjacent sides learned this as a fact, Everclear began to see many a peaceful turn. Which was the reason why King Shindig had standing orders for all Warlords to train their units with their full diligence, because peace was the one thing that was always in short supply for Erf.
"Welcome to Everglade," said Warlord Grey Shades, as he walked along the two ranks of ten scouts in front of him. Grey was neither very tall, nor impressively framed for a unit that had once held the station of Chief Warlord. Indeed, if anything he looked only slightly more sturdy than your average stabber, maybe as strong as an unpromoted knight. But his Signamancy gave him the air of a unit you would not want to engage with. The sharp green of his eyes gave the feeling of piercing through a unit to see into and though them, and the stubble of his face showed he cared more for results than looks or manners. Not the kind of Warlord anyone would approach half-heartedly unless they knew they would receive a warm welcome, and as he strode before the newly popped units in his mail backed hardened leathers and drab billowing cape, the scouts were sure there was no warmth in him today.
"It's been a while since an entire dispatch of scouts has arrived in Everglade without losing a unit, but don't go thinking that impresses me," lied Grey as he watched every unit in the ranks follow his movement with their eyeballs. A breach of discipline in any other unit, but promising in a scout. "As far as I'm concerned, none of you truly understand anything about the world. But that is why you are here, to learn. I and a few others here will be teaching you what you will need to know in order to serve our side, and keep our borders secure. We have no Lookamancer to watch our lands. We have no Thinkamancer to maintain our lines of communication. We have no Florists to delay charges. And we don't need any of them. The scouts of Everclear are the first and most important line of defense for our side, which is why you are all here, in the most hostile and unforgiving terrain the Evergreen can offer. Only those who flourish here will become true Everclear scouts, and join the ranks of the Farstriders."
Warlord Shades couldn't help but say the name of the Farstriders with pride, and for good reason. The distinction was created during the Everlong War against Everglade and the Hickson tribe. The war lasted longer than any unit can remember without checking a library, and the brutality of the fighting was still a cautionary tale told amongst the barracks. A war between two Forest capable sides in a Heavy Forest with no roads of any kind, it couldn't help but be brutal. The entire war was an uninterrupted series of Search and Destroy missions, only Luck or Fate keeping you from stumbling into a stack larger than your own. And the larger battles reduced entire hexes to Ash terrain. Warlord Shades had been among the first units to receive the Farstrider distinction, and the responsibility of searching, seizing, sapping, and slaying any vulnerable enemy resources. It's not a stretch to say that without the Farstriders, Everclear would never have won the war.
"Any unit that does not flourish here," continued Grey, "will croak trying. No one leaves our classes as anything but a success or a corpse! You will be taught how to survive in hostile hexes. You will be taught to remain undetected by enemy units from any distance. You will be taught how to reconnoiter an enemy force. And you will be taught the Everclear way of fighting. Only after learning all of these lessons will you be able to begin fulfilling your Duty to your side. Do I make myself clear!?"
Not a sound could be heard from any of the new scouts, they just nodded slightly. Another good sign.
"Good. Now, your first lesson-"
Warlord Shades' thought process stopped dead in it's tracks, skipped a beat, and then dove onto a new bearing just quick enough to avoid being detected by the new units.
"-Will be taught to you by Warlady Brittney," said Shades, indicating a blond Warlady from the Hickson tribe that was promoted up from a Piker and who was standing attentively nearby. "She will teach you about the local wildlife. Your quartering will come after."
This was not the plan for the day, as her purpose there was originally just to see to quarters and vittling, but Brittney was just bright enough to adapt to her orders. Stepping forward in her green and grey trimmed Everclear colored armor, with a pair of Hickson shorts underneath, she began her unprepared speech. "Well, like, the first thing you should watch out for in the marshes are the Haters. They're big foul-tempered beasts with enormous mouths that'll tear into anyone that grabs their attention. And once you get one of them on your case, it's real hard to get 'em off. Best way to deal with a Hater in your way is to lead it to another Hater, cause they're really territorial, ya see, and they'll start tearing into each other..."
Grey had turned on his heel and started walking out of the spacious courtyard of the level 4 Everglade before Warlady Brittney had even begun her lesson. Grey continued to stride quickly past the wood paneled buildings that made up it's construction. The city was far messier than a city belonging to a side with a Signamancer should ever look, but the Marsh Capable units the city popped found this setting to be the most relaxing. The defenses didn't suffer for the rough materials used for the empty buildings. The walls were solid, the tower tall, the garrison tough, and the terrain lent itself to natural Dirtamancy traps, so Everglade was left as it was after being conquered - though all the living Hicksons at the time were put to the sword. The fact that Everglade was uncomfortable and dangerous to outsiders was why it was a perfect city to use for the training of Farstriders. And even if it wasn't, the Hickson tribe was indispensable to the security of the south and south east perimeter of the Evergreen forest, where marshes predominated the terrain. An invading force would have to cross the marshes in light watercraft to have any hope of attacking with minimal losses, and the Hickson tribe were masters of light watercraft combat. Add to that the stacks and stacks of hard rock golems patrolling along the bottom of those shallow water lanes with boat hooks, harpoons, and halberds to destroy watercraft from below, and you had a path into the forest that had yet to be breached by outsiders.
But Grey couldn't stay there any longer, not even to give the new scouts their first lesson, "How Not To Be Seen." He'd received orders from the King.
Warlord Shades paced quickly and silently through the city, so absorbed in the possible contexts of his orders that he didn't even bother to look at his surroundings. That's why he was actually surprised when he heard his name shouted while crossing in front of the tower of this former capitol site.
"Grey!" shouted an overweight man from the Warlord's blind spot.
Turning to look, Grey saw the Warlord charged with overseeing the city. A stocky man with a horseshoe bald spot, a beard growing only under the jawline, and a stained white undershirt exposed through the opening of a red and blue patterned over shirt made from a material the Hickson tribe called "flannel." A ridiculous type of garment in Grey's opinion, but the Hicksons loved it as much as they did their short cut pants. Warlord Shades returned the wave from the man and called out, "Boudreau!"
The stocky governor jogged up to Grey, his belly and neck waddle bouncing as he did so, asking what the hurry was about. Despite the urgency of his orders, Boudreau was not a man to be brushed aside. He'd led four minor campaigns to repel attempted invasions through the Evergreen marshes, the latest being Stopgap's attempt to take Everlast on the eastern fringe of the kingdom, which he fought off with his current Signamancy. He was a Warlord worthy of respect and his current position. But Duty was Duty. "I'll tell you Boudreau, but you'll have to walk with me."
Even with Grey's slightly longer legs, Boudreau had no trouble keeping up, and so with a steady voice he asked the question, "So where ya off ta', Grey?"
"I'm heading to the Aviary, right now. I've been summoned to court."
"HA! Good fer yew! Maybbe you'll be able to get a banquet under yer belt! Live it up whil' ya can, son!" cried Boudreau, despite the fact that Grey was older than him.
Turning into the Aviary where the flight capable mounts for Everclear were kept, Grey shook his head a little and said, "Somehow I don't think I'll have a chance to enjoy myself on this trip, Boudreau." Grey stopped by a nest prepared for a Bluebird, though it was actually colored a bright yellow. The fowl, seeing that it would be ridden this turn, gave a very depressed sigh and stood up. Grey used this time to turn to Boudreau and said, "It's an emergency summons. It seems like something very bad is going down."
Grey mounted the Bluebird in one swift motion, which released a resigned moan in response, and was preparing for take off when Boudreau said, "How do you know? That it's something bad?"
Grey Shades flipped the hood of his cloak over his head to prepare for travel, which cast a shadow over his eyes. Grey turned to Boudreau and said flatly, "Is a court summons ever a good thing?"
And from the branches of a nearby tree, a wild Who Owl screeched.
Artwork by ElvenAvariel. Gallery and Shmuckers Jar located here.
NOTE: this will be a serialized story running in the Community stream. Shmuckers will be awarded to the writer and illustrator when the story is complete. Please leave comments and speculation as the story goes along! -Rob
I'm glad people are enjoying the story, and yeah, I was also quite surprised that there were ErfCajuns as well. I started this setting by thinking of the plot, of course, and then needed a kingdom with a naming convention I could beat like a dead horse for jokes. The result was "Ever." Evergreen, Everclear (lucky it's a band and an alcohol), and then it extended to Everglade. Which brought me to Florida, and then by extension, Miami, and CSI: Miami.
And I already had a character named Grey Shades. I really couldn't help myself with the joke, in fact, you could say I couldn't resist...
Doing a Lamp Shade.
But you really can't believe how much of my story is just things falling into place. So many happy little accidents. The good punctuation and spelling on the other hand were not accidental, as I proofread this submission about five times before clicking Submit... and I still missed one. Thanks for catching that!
But I want to say this, Rob and I actually had a nice little PM session where we worked out how to bring the Shadows of the Evergreen to the Community Stream in a way that would be the most enriching to the community, and I offered to defer Shmuckers payment to create a precedent to inspire people to finish projects they start for the ComStream. I hope people will take that as a vote of confidence in our Erf-Community, and put their power into planning out their content and to stick with it until the end, as I intend to do. Because there is a lot of Erf-talent, but it can only appear on the front page if YOU submit it to the Community Tab.
Talent like ElvenAvariel's which I am super lucky to be drawing upon to make SotE as like Text Updates as possible. We are both super excited to be doing unpredictable updates (as we both have day jobs), and hope we can inspire others to work together to make content to add to Rob's own (and owned & copywriten) world.